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Natural gas and crude oil locked away inside layers of shale, a type of sedimentary rock, is one of the nation's largest and fastest growing energy sources. According to Drew Pomerantz, a scientist at Schlumberger, an oilfield services company, two of the most fascinating scientific questions related to shales are what they are composed of and how oil and gas are stored and transported in the rocks.
To tackle these questions, Pomerantz and his team struck up a collaboration with Dimosthenis Sokaras, a scientist at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Using SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), the researchers are developing techniques to investigate naturally occurring forms of carbon such as the one found in shale.
Year - Paper - Energy - Fuels - Variety
Earlier this year, they published a paper in Energy & Fuels about a wide variety of forms of carbon found in nature, including kerogen, which is organic carbon found in sedimentary rocks and is the most abundant form of naturally occurring organic carbon in the Earth's crust.
These materials can either be mostly aromatic, containing carbon atoms connected by strong, rigid bonds, such as in graphite or coal, or mostly aliphatic, containing carbon atoms connected by weak, flexible bonds, such as in wax or oil. The researchers found that despite these fundamental differences, the aromatic carbon is always structured the same.
Why is it important to study carbon?
Pomerantz: In nature, you've got a little bit of carbon in the air and on the Earth's surface, a little bit of carbon in lakes and oceans, but the lion's share of the planet's organic carbon is actually underground. And the closer you get to the center of the Earth, the higher the temperatures and pressures get, which changes the chemistry of materials. These changes, which can ultimately lead to the formation of oil and gas, result from...
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